On 4 May 2020, the Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson) announced a package of measures to protect students and higher education providers, in response to the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic. This package was designed to stabilise university finances, including tuition fee income resulting from admissions, and to support our world-class higher education system to continue to deliver for all students and the wider economy.
One of the measures announced was temporary student number controls (SNCs) designed to prevent recruitment by providers taking a form which would be against the interests of students and the sector, yet still allow students who want to go to university, and meet their entry requirements, to access higher education.
I announced on 4 May that SNCs would be linked to the student finance system. I can confirm that I will be laying draft regulations before Parliament which provide that, where an SNC is exceeded in academic year 2020-21, providers in England which are subject to a tuition fee limit will have that limit reduced in the subsequent academic year. In the case of institutions in the devolved administrations which attract student loans for students from England, the maximum loan amount will be reduced in academic year 2021-22 where they exceed their SNC in academic year 2020-21.
These number controls are a response to the financial threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. They aim to prevent large swings in the number of students between providers, with much higher levels of recruitment at some providers potentially leaving others in financial difficulty. They also aim to prevent recruitment practices which are against students’ best interests because they may encourage them to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs.
On 1 June we published a policy statement setting out the detail of the SNCs. These will allow higher education providers to recruit, without the financial consequences referred to above, fulltime, undergraduate, UK-EU domiciled students (with certain exemptions) up to a set level, based on 2019-20 numbers and provider growth forecasts, and which allow additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year.
In addition, providers can also apply for additional places, following the process set out in the policy statement. The Government will allocate an additional 10,000 places for strategically important subjects, with 5,000 of these ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.
In the event that a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will address the consequences for the stability and the sustainability of the higher education sector by reducing the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year. This will be through the introduction of lower fee limits in the academic year from 1 August 2021 for providers that recruit more students than their individual SNCs. Maximum tuition fee loan amounts available to English-domiciled students starting full-time courses at institutions in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales are also reduced in the same circumstances.
The Government therefore intend to lay draft regulations (the higher education (fee limits and student support) (England) (coronavirus) regulations 2020) before Parliament for their approval. These regulations will amend the legislation which prescribes tuition fee limits and tuition fee loan amounts.
These SNCs are in the best interests of the financial health of the higher education sector overall, and will help to ensure we can continue to look after the best interests of students, allowing them make well-informed choices that give them the best prospects for success in their lives and careers.